How long does a new and unusual aspect of our environment need to be in place before we notice it? On the other hand, how long does it have to persist before we treat it as the new normal and begin to ignore it?
My mom and dad were married right after World War II, so they’d lived together for nearly forty six years when I came home for a visit from seminary one weekend. Right off the bat, I noticed something differ about my dad.
“You’ve gone and grown a mustache.”
“You like it?” He asked, as he smoothed the unruly hairs into place.
“Oh yeah! You look like a perfect Southern gentleman.”
He smiled. Perfect and gentleman was his aim.
My mother, who was sitting in the identical chair next to his, separated only by a small table with a lamp and magazines, craned her head around that lamp to look at him.
“When did you grow this mustache?”
“Mother! You’ve slept in the same bed with daddy every single night of your entire life. You always kiss each other good night. I can’t believe you haven’t noticed the hair on his upper lip!”
A little rattled, she replied, “It’s always dark when we go to sleep.”
I laughed. My daddy smiled. My mother always had an answer for every thing. I noticed his mustache because I hadn’t seen him in a while, whereas mother had watched the slow progression of the hiding of his upper lip. I should say, it’s been my experience the husband usually fails to notice his wife’s new haircut, an act which causes much family drama.
When I travel, I don’t go from point to point with the goal of arriving as soon as possible. If that were the case, I’d fly. In my car, if I see an interesting place, I’ll go visit, since the journey is more important than the destination. Once I’ve arrived, I even make side trips, just for a little exercise. I was walking around Lake Bridgeport, in the town of Runaway Bay, Texas, when I stumbled upon these grasses, flowers, and small trees. The afternoon light caught the center stalk so it glowed its reds and golds. The few leaves left from autumn’s color, which hadn’t been blown away by the seasonal rains quivered in the light breeze. A few flowers added color to a rather grey afternoon.
Why would ordinary weeds catch my eye? There’s nothing remarkable or heroic about weeds. Most people spend good money to rid their lawns of ugly and invasive weeds. Here around the lake is a wild place, however, and the weed is in its natural state. This red weed is unique among the other natural grasses, for its not a single blade, but a stem with alternating leaves. I had to pick my way through some underbrush to find an opening from which I could take a good photo. I felt as if this weed had called to me.
I’ve often wondered how long the bush burned in the wilderness before Moses looked up from counting his father in law’s sheep and said, “What is this? I must go see it!” Extraordinary events happen all the time, yet we’re too consumed with our day to day busyness to see the glories of God’s hand at work in the world. Or we come to a watershed moment, when the bush would burn brightly for us, and throw water to quench its fire, for “it’s never been done, it can’t be done, it’s always been this way, and people will never change.”
If Moses believed this, he’d have never followed God’s call back to Egypt. The Hebrew children would still be slaves in Egypt. But Moses trusted God. This is called a sea change, or a transformation. We don’t do this just on our own, but by a power at work greater than our own. We might resist, but God persists.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh,
and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you:
when you have brought the people out of Egypt,
you shall worship God on this mountain.”
~~ Genesis 3:11-12
What sea change is happening in our world today? Are people finally fed up with treating human life as a cheap commodity? We do this if we treat people as objects to be used and then thrown away when they’re worn out or too sick to be worked hard. When we fail to fund schools and health care for all, we don’t get the best people for our citizens or our employees. If only the wealthy can afford health care and a quality education, then our democracy suffers, for we will have a permanent underclass and a qualified few. This bifurcation doesn’t bode well for the future. Does a bush burn in the wilderness for any of my readers?
Are we tired of exchanging precious human lives for a shibboleth? The word means “stream” in Hebrew and was used as a sorting test to distinguish warriors of Gilead from those of Ephraim. Today, the 2nd Amendment serves the same purpose, because the National Rifle Association gives politicians large amounts of money for their campaign coffers and spends extra money on their behalf also. The NRA is the front for gun manufacturers, who profit if they sell more guns. They never want any restrictions on any freedom, but we don’t live in an anarchy, so a democracy can restrict certain aspects of gun ownership and use.
Public mass shootings have occurred on average every 172 days since 1982. Since September 6, 2011, there’s been 14 mass shootings at an average interval of less than 172 days. These don’t include domestic violence or criminal activity. Seven of the deadliest mass shootings in modern US history have taken place in a school, including Sandy Hook elementary and Virginia Tech University. The deaths at Stoneman Douglas HS in Florida were the 180th mass shooting since 2009 and the third mass shooting in 2018. By Valentine’s Day in 2018, 17 school shootings had been reported, and in the week after, even more.
Schools now receive an average of 50 threats of violence daily, compared with 10 per day at the end of 2017, NPR reported. Since I began this blog in 2011, mass killings in public spaces have snuffed out the lives of 270 persons in grocery stores, church sanctuaries, schools, post offices, and restaurants. In seven years, an average of 38.6 individuals did not celebrate with cake and ice cream on their next circuit of the earth around the sun. I didn’t know any of these personally, but we may have lost the next Steve Jobs or the next Mother Theresa, or someone who would have fought happiness to their small corner of the world.
Some want to arm the schools, but what about the other places of mass shootings? Why not just ban the weapon which enables the taking of mass casualties? Or are the lives of grocery shoppers less valued than school children? Ask an orphan if a parent is valued. We don’t want to become an armed state in America, or at least I’m not for it. Perhaps the NRA wants this, for the gunmakers would boost their bottom lines. They make enough money off the rest of their product lines.
Some would say, opioids take MORE lives, as does tobacco use (1,300 deaths per day). These substances are legal and on the market we expect people to use them responsibly. They’re also addictive and controlled. The largest incidents are mostly since 2004 when the ban on semiautomatic weapons lapsed. These weapons, civilian equivalents to military type issue, are meant for mass killing, not for sport, hunting, or target shooting. Their high velocity ammunition doesn’t just pierce flesh, but obliterates it. Survival rates are slim and none.
I wonder if this moment in our nation’s life is our burning bush, our opportunity to hear the voice of God calling to us, and we rise up to set our people free from this pain and insanity.
“I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt;
I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters.
Indeed, I know their sufferings,
and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians,
and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land,
a land flowing with milk and honey…”
~~ Exodus 3:7-8a
Once upon a time, Bishop Nicholas of the Greek Orthodox Church was known for his charity to the poor and other good deeds. After his death, enough miracles in his name elevated him to sainthood. People began to give gifts to others in his name to celebrate his feast day, December 6th.
Later on, the gift giving at Christmas became more important. After Clement Moore’s 1823 Poem, A Night Before Christmas, the visit of “Old Saint Nick” came alive in children’s imagination. With Thomas Nast’s Illustrations during the Civil War era, Old Saint Nick transformed into Santa Claus.
Of course, even though the two were once one person, their personalities are different. Everybody loves Santa Claus. He embodies holiday cheer, happiness, fun, and gifts—warm happy aspects of the Christmas season. How do Santa Claus and St. Nicholas differ?
Santa Claus belongs to childhood;
St. Nicholas models for all of life.
Santa Claus, as we know him, developed to boost Christmas sales—the commercial Christmas message;
St. Nicholas told the story of Christ and peace, goodwill toward all—the hope-filled Christmas message.
Santa Claus encourages consumption;
St. Nicholas encourages compassion.
Santa Claus appears each year to be seen and heard for a short time;
St. Nicholas is part of the communion of saints, surrounding us always with prayer and example.
Santa Claus flies through the air—from the North Pole;
St. Nicholas walked the earth—caring for those in need.
Santa Claus, for some, replaces the Babe of Bethlehem;
St. Nicholas, for all, points to the Babe of Bethlehem.
Santa Claus isn’t bad;
St. Nicholas is just better.
We can actually keep the spirit of both Santa and the Saint all year long if we keep the joy of giving and receiving gifts to all, especially by giving to those who have less than we have.
If we keep the love of all persons in our hearts, then we’re loving as God loves us, for this is how the saints love the world. Even Santa loves all the world like this—really! Does any child ever get coal in their stocking? No! This is only a grownup threat to make the child behave. All children get a Santa gift, for the “Santas” in the community will make it happen, for they are the Saints who walk among us.
I want to thank the folks at the St. Nicholas Center for this idea. They have good resources for teachers for downloading. Check them out. I found the images on google search.
Time to remember my mother. Everyone wants a good death: free from pain, remorse, and regret. We want to meet death on our own terms, looking at it nobly and peacefully, but the executions of two murderers last night in Arkansas brought the question of this concept into the arena of “who deserves a good death?”
The survivors of brutal attacks justify their decades of waiting for justice to be served, no matter how much or how long the perpetrators suffer indignity or harm in the process. They believe they cannot be healed without this. I wonder they ever consider the ripples of harm which roll out beyond the executions of these death sentences. The multiple events scheduled back to back here in Arkansas have our people riveted to the TV, witnesses lined up to view the gory deeds, and stressed lawyers for both sides working overtime. The prison staff has the emotional burden of ending the condemned’s life.
If we feel sadness when someone dies by accident or intention on our streets, I wonder why we feel less emotional burden when the state carries out a judgment of death. Have we decided some people aren’t valued enough to live? Yet we feel deep distress when animals are put to death in shelters when no one will adopt them. Are we now at the point animals are more valued than the image of God, no matter how flawed and broken this image is? Have we decided we can stop the work of forgiveness and reconciliation in this life, for this perpetrator and for the survivors of the crime?
Maybe we use the death penalty as the short cut in dealing with our emotions. We say “This is our magic bullet,” and then we go on with our lives. We may kill the perpetrator, but we need to kill the hate in our hearts. Until we find the path to forgiveness, and the source of love, the magic bullet is only a poison pellet.
The snow arrived overnight, as promised! Just enough to change the landscape of winter on the lake in Arkansas. The trees, mountain, and grey sky are just shades of black and white. Snow changes our perception of the landscape, so it is an epiphany of its own kind.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, or the night before Epiphany, folks used to take down their decorations and trees. They gave each other the last of the Christmas gifts, though I’m sure no one ever got “twelve drummers drumming ” as the old song goes, unless they were a rented band who went about drumming for hire.
Today we celebrate National Take Down the Christmas Tree Day on the same day as Epiphany, for folks who aren’t in a rush and have lost the connection to the spiritual reason for the season. Epiphany celebrates the visit of the wise men at the birth of Jesus. The word means “reveal,” so God revealed the divine presence in Jesus to the nations of the world when the wise men visited the rude accommodations of the savior’s birth. The poor shepherds had already seen his glory in the manger, as well as the creation, represented by the animals in the stable.
Who was missing from the Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany? The extended families of Mary and Joseph aren’t ever mentioned, yet our modern celebration of this revelation of god to the world is celebrated primarily in the home, not amongst the poor or the outsiders. We focus on the giving of gifts to our families and friends. Shoppers around America planned on spending an average $929 on gifts in 2016. Religious organizations had average donations of $1,703 (secular households donate $863 on average to other causes) (2012).
I mention this, since nowhere in scripture can we find a proof text to affirm going into debt to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. We can find multiple texts in which God forgives debt, but Mastercard does not forgive debt. John Wesley asked his clergy, “Are you so in debt as to embarrass yourself?” The wags among us answer, “I’m not embarrassed if you’re not embarrassed!” The correct answer is “NO.”
Sometimes it takes an epiphany, a revelation of divine insight, if you will, to realize Christmas isn’t a day, but an emotion. Even if we take down the decorations, put away the carols and stockings, and return our homes to “ordinary time,” we can always live in the season of welcoming Christ into the world. If we look upon the face of the poor, or the least of these my brothers and sisters, we are seeing Christ. If we look upon the natural world, we are seeing representatives of those who first saw his glory. If we see our families, we see those who failed to attend this miracle, and we give them the gift of grace, for we too were off doing other more important things those twelve days of Christmas long ago. We can gift ourselves a little grace also.
Today is Epiphany. We can have the revelation anew because God is always inbreaking into our world of grey, or black and white. I see the world in shades of grey, rather than strictly either/or, but an epiphany will light up the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome this light.
Happy New Year to everyone! May you keep Christmas in your heart every day! May an epiphany be yours at the right time. (God’s time is the right time, so be open!)
I’m finishing up my grandchildren’s family history scrapbooks. I got to thinking about our family tree. The high holy days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and the year end festivities bring families together. This often results in a few fireworks or flamethrowers at some of these gatherings. I suspect alcohol may be involved in some of this, but old grudges and scores, which haven’t been settled in decades, won’t get settled on this holiday either.
My mother’s sister claimed our family goes back to the Baronial Order of the Magna Charter. These are a distinct group of the descendants of the signers of the 1215 document, in which King John of England granted the principles of constitutional law. The most important was each person, even the king, was subject to the law.
For my family, the real importance was our Anglo Saxon ancestry was ancient and noble, as well as white. Our linage also qualifies us for membership in the DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution, and DOC, Daughters of the Confederacy, two more all white groups. Both of these are institutions of a bye gone age and a bifurcated society. I have folks in my family tree who liked to put on “airs,” as folks in the country like to say. All the old ones in my family tree went to their graves holding these beliefs firmly. I loved them anyway.
Trees are meant to live by breathing fresh air and growing new leaves and branches. Even if trees only propagate by pollinating with their own kind, each tree is part of a giant forest of many species of trees. If a forest were a monoculture, a single disease or pest could wipe out the entire growth. If the forest consists of many different plants and trees, the destructive organism has to work very hard to destroy the whole, for the different and unlike species provide protection for one another. The variety of a diverse culture is its strength.
If we human creatures took note of our surroundings more, we would not fear the Others, but would embrace them. We would make them our friends, and we’d defend one another from harm.
The next generation of my family tree, I hope, is learning to love the other families of this diverse and wonderful world. I hope the branches of your family tree are open, growing, and renewing. Perhaps your branches can provide a shelter and make America friends again.
“And are we yet alive and see each other’s face?”
Illness robs us of our tastebuds as well as our sense of smell. Sickness often robs a person of their appetite, but I’ve never had that problem. Somehow I’ve managed to eat my way through the mumps, measles, chicken pox, mononucleosis, and morning sickness. Yep, I learned how to keep my head perfectly still, grab the saltine crackers placed strategically near my bedside, and gum those square flour curatives slowly until my stomach settled.
Once I was out of bed, I was starving. My huge breakfast would be gone by ten. I’d have an early lunch, and then another lunch at noon. By two pm, I was ravenous, but I couldn’t have dinner. I hit the ice cream container in the freezer. By four, I was exhausted, so I napped. All that chewing had tired me out. I usually rallied for dinner, and for the bedtime snack. I ate six large meals per day. My doctor said I could “Eat for two,” but I don’t think he meant two adult persons.
I’ve never understood folks who lose their appetite. My daddy would think about his next meal as soon as he finished the current one. My mother, on the other hand, ate because it was necessary. Food wasn’t a joy to anticipate, but a function comparable to breathing. It had to be done, but one didn’t think too much about it. I always anticipate my next meal. If I’m not planning for it, or getting excited about it, something is wrong.
This is why I like to use fresh, seasonal ingredients. Cooking with the seasons keeps your menus fresh. When food is in season, it is also at its best value. I live in the southern USA, and while we can get Mexican tomatoes in the winter, they aren’t as good as the rest of the year. They’re also more expensive. I don’t use tomatoes too much during the winter, but I’ll appreciate them all the more when they come back in season once again.
While dinner was in the oven tonight I entered the ingredients into the Spark people recipe calculator. It has a function to post your portions to your daily meal records. I like the convenience of knowing what I’m actually eating, nutrition and calorie wise, rather than estimating. It’s a matter of accountability and discipline.
When I do the wild & crazy dance (eating a 500 calorie chocolate bar for lunch, for instance…), I know I’m going to record this too! This was an easy meal to make, especially since I used leftover quinoa. I ate two portions tonight. I was out shopping for sandals today and decided to take it easy in the kitchen.
This makes a healthy alternative for a potluck or covered dish supper.
Minutes to Prepare: 10
Minutes to Cook: 35
Number of Servings: 6
1 cup Ancent Harvest’s Quinoa, Traditional, Organic (1/4 cup dry / 46 grams)
8 oz Beef, 90% Lean Ground Beef from Sirloin
.5 cup, chopped Onions, raw
2 serving Garlic
1 tbsp Cilantro, raw
1 tbsp Basil
3 plum tomato Tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, year round average
3 oz Mozzarella Cheese, part skim milk
3 large Egg, fresh, whole, raw
12 spear, medium (5-1/4″ to 7″ lo Asparagus, fresh
Cook quinoa according to package directions or use leftovers. Brown 8 ounces of ground beef. Add 1/2 cup onions chopped. Cook till tender but not limp. Add 2 or more cloves chopped garlic to taste. Stir in chopped cilantro, basil, diced tomatoes, and Turn off heat.
Spray oven safe dish with cooking spray. Lay clean trimmed asparagus across bottom. Put meat & tomato mix evenly over asparagus layer.
Spread 3 oz mozzarella cheese over meat. Spread 2 cups cooked quinoa over this. Then mix 3 eggs in separate bowl. Pour evenly over top. Put into preheated 350F oven.
This could take 30 to 35 minutes at 350 F depending on the humidity outside.
Serving Size: Makes 6 large portions or 8 lady sized portions. Serve with salad or veggies as a side.
Number of Servings: 6
Servings Per Recipe: 6
Amount Per Serving
Total Fat: 10.0 g
Cholesterol: 124.6 mg
Sodium: 129.4 mg
Total Carbs: 25.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.3 g
Protein: 19.4 g
“in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.”
~~ Psalm 57:1
Drop me behind enemy lines with my machete and I’ll make my own way out. I was born for challenges: I am a first child. My parents had to learn on me and I always had to test the boundaries as I was growing up. Not that I was a particularly wild child, but when I discovered my other friends in the seventh grade had bedtimes ranging from eight PM to midnight, I was able to convince my folks I didn’t need to be put to bed at seven PM with my younger brothers. I was always the first to do anything new, since I was the oldest.
When it came time to pick a college, my parents wanted me to live at home and attend their alma mater, Centenary College. I wanted to go far away to Wellesley College, but my dear southern Daddy said, “No daughter of mine is going north of the Mason Dixon Line!” So I said I wanted to go to the notorious state party school LSU, and was told that was not an option. We compromised on Agnes Scott College, a small Presbyterian woman’s college that sends 90% of its graduates on to postgraduate work.
In the midst of my junior year, my art teacher was killed in a freak accident. We had a very modern art building that had all the floors cantilevered over the ones below so that it was open and airy. Sounds also carried very well. Those of us that were in the building heard the last screams before the sheer silence. The death of my mentor in the midst of an ordinary art activity had a profound effect on me. She was remixing clay by adding it into a grinder, but her sleeve got caught and that pulled her into the machine. There is nothing like the death of someone you love to focus your mind and to focus your actions.
When the storms of life come, and come they will, taking shelter is sometimes the better part of courage. The storm chasers who photo extreme weather events have special, modified vehicles in which they chase these powerful natural events. “Professional driver, closed course, do not attempt” ought to scroll under their videos. We need to remember that the best way to ride out a tornado is in the bathroom or closet (the most interior room without a window), and never to ride out a tornado in our car (think matchbox toy blown to kingdom come).
I can sleep through anything, but one morning when I was on the Blevins Charge, I awoke to this horrid sound roaring right over the roof of the parsonage. I looked at the clock, thought it was way too dark thirty to wake up, and went back to sleep. When I woke for good, my coffee pot wouldn’t work because the electricity was out. I went to the Gas and GO, three houses away (Blevins has more chickens than people), but they were in the same shape. I am a woman who needs my coffee (it is my machete). When I inquired, the clerk said “Are you not aware that a tornado came through here this morning!? No one has electricity! You might find coffee in Hope.” Oh, so that horrible loud sound early this morning was a tornado? And I just opened my eyes and went back to bed.
That tornado didn’t even lift a shingle off the parsonage, but that is the vagaries of the animal. The recent OKLAHOMA tornados were much larger and more devastating. Half of a city blown away, but thankfully not many lives lost considering the amount of physical destruction. The recent thunderstorms that brought flooding to Arkansas also caused several deaths. Some may ask, where is God in all this? People lose loved ones, their homes, and their business. Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Couldn’t a good God keep this from happening?
God is with us at all times, whether we acknowledge this fact or not. God’s steadfast love is a gift to us, for when our love fails and we turn away from God, God still remembers God’s pledge to love us. “You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.” ~~ Job 10:12 there was a time in my life that I decided there was no God, but God still remembered me even when I had forgotten God.
When we ask, why does God let bad things happen to good people, sometimes we re asking “does God cause bad things to happen?” This is a broken and fallen world in which we live. The world itself isn’t in harmony with God’s good purposes, but one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth. We too are part of the broken and fallen world, and as much as it pains us to hear this word, we are not yet “good” in biblical terms, for good is a term belonging to God alone (Mark 10:18–
Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”)
Could a good God keep these disasters from befalling his loved ones? I think if we humans thought we were immune to disasters, we would throw caution to the winds and go bat crazy. I also think we would soon forget the source of our protection and begin to worship ourselves. Oh wait, that sounds like us right now!
The question we ought to answer is “How do folks endure tragedy?” For some it is a challenge: they thrive when they have a machete in hand and are behind enemy lines. When you come out of your safe place and see your whole neighborhood blown away, you are behind enemy lines. When you find out your kid is on drugs, you are behind enemy lines. When your job gets downsized, you are behind enemy lines. The doctor tells you it’s cancer: grab the machete, honey. It’s time to meet the challenge standing up.
Even behind enemy lines, we need to rest. We have to find a hiding place, a quiet place in which we can restore ourselves and be ready for the next day. We need to be “in the shadow of your wings” and “take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.” (Psalm 57:1)Those can be the storms of doubt, fear, hopelessness, weakness, anger, grief or inadequacy. When others depend on us to be strong, we need to take time to care or ourselves. A quiet time to meditate, to pray, to read scripture, or to hold hands with your family and to speak aloud the thanksgivings of your day can be “refuge in the shadow of God’s wings.”